(844) 815-9632

felony murder

Ga. Dad Indicted on Murder Charges for Toddler’s Hot Car Death

A Georgia father who left his toddler in a hot car, leading to the boy's death, was indicted Thursday on eight counts, including malice murder and felony murder. Justin Ross Harris, 33, had initially pleaded not guilty to murder and child cruelty charges in mid-June, but CNN reports that this new grand jury indictment supersedes the previous charges. Prosecutors have alleged that Harris intentionally strapped his child into his overheated SUV to die, claiming that he "wanted a childless life." What does this new indictment mean for this hot-car murder case? Malice, Felony Murder Alleged The grand jury returned with three counts relating to murder: two counts of felony murder and one count of malice murder. While it is unclear what evidence that the grand jury was presented to come to these charges, since the proceedings are secret, we can explain a bit about these two different types of murder indictments: Malice murder. In Georgia, as in many other states, murder may be proved by showing that the defendant had malice aforethought -- the intention to take the life of another human being -- and caused that person's death. This intent can often be implied by a defendant's actions (or inaction) if the circumstances of the killing "show an abandoned and malignant heart." Felony murder. A separate charge of murder can be applied when a defendant causes the death of another during the commission of a dangerous felony. This charge requires no finding of malice. The jury in Harris' case will likely be asked to consider first-degree cruelty to children as an inherently dangerous felony. These murder charges may leave Harris to face life in prison if convicted, or even the death penalty. Other Charges The grand jury's indictment reveals details that make this macabre story of a toddler's death even stranger. In addition to child cruelty charges, Harris was also indicted on attempt to sexually exploit a minor and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors, reports CNN. Prosecutors allege that Harris was sexting with women while at work -- one of whom was underage. All the while, Harris' son was strapped in a broiling car parked at his father's workplace. With murder charges looming, these sexting allegations seem to be the least of Harris' worries, but they may certainly make it harder for a jury to believe he was a hapless -- and not malicious -- father.Prosecutors are set to discuss the charges at a news conference this afternoon, CNN reports. Related Resources: Ross Harris indicted on murder, 7 additional charges (Atlanta's WSB-TV) Ga. Toddler's Hot Car Death: Why Is Dad Charged With Murder? (FindLaw's Blotter) Baby Dies in Hot Car, Young Father Arrested (FindLaw's Blotter) Dad, 32, Charged in Toddler's Hot Car Death (FindLaw's Blotter)
continue reading

When Can a DUI Be Charged as Murder?

Drunken driving crashes can often be fatal, elevating a simple DUI to a full-blown murder charge. Case in point: A drunken driver in Colorado accused of killing a 17-year-old boy in an accident Monday is now facing a first-degree murder charge for his alleged actions, reports The Denver Post. Ever Olivos-Gutierrez, 40, lacks a drivers license and has incurred "numerous" DUIs prior to Monday's fatal crash. So when can a DUI be charged as murder? Extreme Facts Call for Severe Charges In a DUI crash that involves a death, prosecutors may have the option of charging a suspect with first-degree felony murder. In most states, if a suspect caused the death of a person while committing a dangerous felony, that person can be charged with a crime called "felony murder." In states like Colorado, these dangerous felonies include arson, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, sexual assault, or fleeing from police. Even if a fatal DUI is not eligible for a felony murder charge, it could potentially qualify as conduct that is extremely indifferent to human life. Drivers deemed to have acted so recklessly and with indifference to the risk to human life can also be charged with murder. These murder charges are also known as "depraved heart" murders. In the Colorado case, Olivos-Gutierrez is facing a murder charge for his DUI crash under a similar legal theory. Prosecutorial Discretion Most states give prosecutors the option to charge DUI offenders who cause fatalities with something less than murder. For example, involuntary manslaughter charges can apply to any person who caused another's death while performing a reckless or dangerous act that was a known risk to human life. It is not difficult for prosecutors to prove that driving while intoxicated is such a lethal risk, so involuntary manslaughter can be much easier to prove than murder for drunken drivers. Many states even have vehicular manslaughter charges which relate directly to deaths caused by reckless action (including intoxication) behind the wheel. Prosecutors in DUI fatality cases have the option to push for murder charges or a manslaughter or DUI charge. The prosecution can offer a plea bargain or even drop charges depending on the defendant's criminal history, willingness to cooperate, or lack of evidence. On the other hand, prosecutors also have the option to pursue murder charges for defendants with extensive criminal records, lack of remorse, or extensive evidence of wrongdoing. In any case, DUI murder charges are serious, and a criminal defense attorney can explain how and when they would apply. Related Resources: Do You Get a Public Defender for a DUI Case? (FindLaw's Blotter) Is Teen's 'Affluenza' DWI Sentence Too Lenient? (FindLaw's Blotter) 3 Ways a Misdemeanor DUI Can Become a Felony (FindLaw's Blotter) Breathalyzer Test Results: Are They Reliable? (Katz Lawyers)
continue reading